As a communications professional who’s been exposed to agency life since my early teens, I’ve dabbled in almost every industry imaginable. While they’re all competitive and complex in their own right, in my opinion, the business of sponsorships is among the most cutthroat and misunderstood – or at least most poorly leveraged.
One of the reasons I believe this to be true is the lingering presence, all too often, of a zero-sum game mentality in the field and business circles – a type of culture does not lend itself well to innovation or communication, two of the most critical ingredients in the recipe for a successful sponsorship. Those who innovate and communicate across audience groups will reap the largest reward in the world of sponsorships. And the reward can be very big.
What is sponsorship and why should you consider it?
I like to say that sponsorship is “marketing by alignment”. A company looks to position or promote itself or its brand by aligning with (1) an event or discipline that either conveys the right bundle of attributes (in line with itself or its product) or (2) attracts the right mix of audience segments that are in line with its desired clientele. To me, it’s as simple as that. Of course, some experts will have good arguments to propose nuances – such as sponsorships that allow for product sampling or simply unique experiences but, more often than not, the various permutations of sponsorships can be funneled into these two categories.
Silos are good on farms, not in sponsorships
There’s a lot of dysfunction in today’s corporate environment. Large institutions, be they private or public, have become too large for their own good in many instances. Because of that (and a variety of other deep-rooted reasons), large organizations – the kind that can afford a large sponsorship portfolio – have become disjointed and hard-pressed to leverage sponsorships to their full extent. All too often, a multimillion-dollar sponsorship will be designed and implemented only within the borders of a single department, say marketing or sales for example. That’s really a shame. For full actualization, a sponsorship must permeate the entire organization, finding “activation” opportunities in each department, from Human Resources to Operations and Public or External Relations. Note: “Activation” is the ability of an organization to leverage a sponsorship through its normal business efforts/initiatives, for example: integrating the sponsorship into its marketing creative and promotions; in its sales or B2B efforts, or as a way to recognize high-performance employees…basically making the most out of its sponsorship beyond the basic “sponsorship rights” it might have acquired in its sponsorship contract.
Mylan Relay for Hope
Few years ago, I’ve had the great pleasure of working on one of those special sponsorship programs that I know has the potential to outlive my own life. It’s a partnership between Mylan Pharmaceuticals and the Canadian AIDS Society to help educate Canadians on the face of HIV/AIDS today and to raise much-needed funds and awareness for the good work of organizations working in this important area. The partnership started off as a cold call conversation that was allowed to grow and evolve into a deeply rooted win-win partnership. The company, Mylan, has truly embraced the campaign, which is rooted in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)/Community investment, by engaging employees, its sales force, customers, media, international offices and partners. The campaign may have started in one department – or with a few basic sponsorship rights – but, thanks to many champions, innovation and communication, it has truly found fertile ground throughout the company. Pizza Pizza has met the same level of success with its Slices for Smiles CSR program. See www.relayforhope.ca or www.pizzapizza.ca for more information.
Tips on sponsorships (or CRS-related partnerships)
Here are some tips to consider as you consider your next sponsorship effort:
- Cast the net out widely (at first). Consider all options in terms of disciplines, partners, regions etc.
- Make calls; see what each organization is up to. Go beyond the website or brochures and ask for their deepest desires and ideas for the future
- Consider partners in developing countries. Don’t focus automatically on local causes and/or programs. In today’s day and age, with the advent of videos and content marketing, you can sponsor anything and anywhere. In many instances, your money will go further abroad and, oftentimes, touch more people
- Find a way to get buy-in and leverage funds from other departments. Don’t go at it alone. Spend extra time talking to the HR, Sales, Marketing/Social Media and Media Relations departments in particular
- Make sure to “activate” – a general rule is to invest at least $3 in activation for every $1 in actual sponsorship cost
- Plan ahead…and for the long haul
- Build measurement into your sponsorship programs
- Include content marketing and journalistic content into your plans
- Build in a role for your partners and natural allies
- Look for spokesperson opportunities (third-party endorsements, if possible)
Lastly, make sure to get out and experience different sponsorship areas for yourself. Summer is a good time for this. Try everything from music to arts; from spelling bees to professional motorsports. Remember that it often starts with a simple question and a little daydreaming. But make sure to share your dreams!